The white men seemed nervous. There were two of them—one tall, one a few inches shorter, both conspicuously “other” from the sea of African faces. The tall one with the goatee carried a green nylon bag that he kept suspiciously close to his body, peering into it several times as he and his partner negotiated with the locals in the dusty parking lot.
The muzungus—that’s the Bantu term for foreigner or, in the literal translation, “aimless wanderer”—needed a ride. That much was clear to Kasimu. But they were struggling to communicate with his boss, the driver of the white Toyota Land Cruiser the white men had singled out among all the beat-up trucks and sedans as big enough and rugged enough to transport them and their broken-down motorcycle across the jungle. At first the muzungus balked at the driver’s price. Then they complained when they realized that Kasimu and his friend Kepo, who needed a lift home to his village, would be riding along. Finally, at about 6:30 p.m. on an early-spring evening in the crumbling colonial city of Kisangani, Congo, all five men piled into the Land Cruiser and settled in for a long drive through the jungle. Kasimu and Kepo shared the open back of the vehicle with the motorcycle—a white Yamaha trail bike—and the tall muzungu. The shorter one rode up front with the driver.
Everyone was quiet as they made their way east across the city, lurching and braking in the evening traffic. Known as Stanleyville a century ago, Kisangani was the centerpie...